by Michael Lowrey
Gordon Kirby’s column on racing this week address the issue of innovation in racing again, this time from a different angle: fuel. As in having different sorts of fuel power a race car. It’s something former IndyCar team owner — and current petroleum company owner — Pat Patrick is pushing for. Simply put, he wants to sell more natural gas and racing offers a way to demonstrate its potential and safety. Except that IndyCar racing isn’t interested. (ALMS is quite interested but they have a far more open rulebook.)
Heading Patrick’s push to develop a natural gas-powered race car is Jim McGee:
Jim McGee ran Patrick Racing for many years. McGee was Mario Andretti’s chief mechanic in the late ’60s during Mario’s formative days in Indy cars and ran Roger Penske’s Indy car team through the late seventies before joining Patrick. He worked at Newman/Haas in 1993 and ’94 running Nigel Mansell’s car before rejoining Patrick and spent the bulk of his career with Patrick’s team. McGee is the most successful crew chief in IndyCar history with a total of 90 wins.
“In IndyCar there isn’t anything to sell,” McGee observed. “There are no TV numbers, no crowds, no people in the grandstands, no media. The interest level has gone to zero. There are no new innovations coming down the road in racing unless the series determines they’re going to have an innovation because the way the rules are written you can’t do anything. There’s no room to do anything and it’s totally stagnant.
So could it be that IndyCar’s problems stem in part because there’s little to no innovation in the series? And turning to NASCAR — which is in decline and also has no innovation except the sort of innovation that NASCAR itself institutes — could NASCAR’s problems also come in part from the fact that series is essentially technologically stagnant, and thus not very interesting to younger adults?